- The office of the military wing of Hamas in Istanbul has been stepping up the movement’s terror activities at universities in the West Bank.
- This Turkish Hamas office also handled Hamas engineer Fadi al-Batsh, who was assassinated in Malaysia.
- It is time for Israel to put international pressure on Turkey to close this office down.
The office of the military wing of Hamas in Istanbul, Turkey, continues to act feverishly to bring more of the movement’s activities to the West Bank.
Hamas places great importance on activities at the universities in the West Bank. Every university has a cell of the Islamic Bloc (Al-kutla al-Islamiya in Arabic), which identifies with Hamas. It is a source of political force for the movement and also a pool of manpower for recruiting students to carry out terror attacks.
The Israeli intelligence service and PA security forces are both constantly monitoring these activities, and there is security cooperation between both services, as per the Oslo accords.
According to a notification published by the Israel Security Agency (ISA), ISA arrested Omar Kiswani, chairman of the Student Council at Birzeit University, on March 7, 2018. His interrogation revealed that a Hamas network had transferred the sum of 150,000 euros from a Hamas operative named Yassin Rabia. Rabia had been released from an Israeli jail under the Shalit prisoner exchange and exiled to the Gaza Strip and then the office of the Hamas military wing in Turkey. The purpose of the money was to advance Hamas activities in the West Bank.
This case once again highlights the activities of the Hamas office in Istanbul, which is attempting to step up Hamas terror activities in the West Bank.
Israel has been closely monitoring the connections between Turkey and Hamas since the Marmara convoy incident in May 2010 and the discovery of close links between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the then-chairman of Hamas’ political bureau Khaled Mashal.
The Hamas-Turkish Brotherhood
The Justice and Development Party, which Erdogan heads, is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, a world organization from where Hamas originated. Though Hamas has announced that it is no longer connected to the Muslim Brotherhood, connections between both movements still exist. Hamas has lowered its profile with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to move closer to President al-Sisi in the interest of easing the embargo on the Gaza Strip. However, its links with other branches of the Muslim Brotherhood around the world still exist. Quite simply, Hamas is playing a double game.
In February 2018, ISA discovered that Hamas was transferring funds to its operatives in the West Bank via Turkey. These are huge sums, worth millions of dollars. During ISA’s investigation, it emerged that Saleh al-Arouri, chairman of Hamas’ political bureau, who was the director of the Hamas office in Turkey but was expelled from there due to Israeli pressure before the signing of the reconciliation agreement between Israel and Turkey, still pulls the strings. This is in spite of his current location in a Hizbullah stronghold in the neighborhood of Dahieh in Beirut, Lebanon, and his role as the Hamas leadership’s liaison with Iran.
One of al-Arouri’s men, Ziyad Al-Jabarin, who was released under the Shalit Deal in 2011 and works for al-Arouri, recruited the members of the network that were arrested by ISA.
In January 2018, ISA arrested Kamil Takli, a Turkish citizen working as a law lecturer.
According to information in Israel’s possession, Takli was assisting Hamas activists, most of whom were exiled under the Shalit Deal. In recent years, he settled in Turkey and was involved in a money-laundering network. After the investigation, he was deported from Israel.
A week later, ISA apprehended Daram Jabarin, who was also involved in financial transfers. He traveled to Turkey several times, where he was recruited to Hamas. Before his arrest, he managed to transfer the sum of 200,000 euros to the military wing of Hamas in the West Bank. An additional sum of 91,000 euros was found in his possession. This money was supposed to finance terror activities against Israel, and he will be brought to trial in the near future.
From the ISA investigation, it emerged that Hamas activists in Turkey own a company called IMES, which Hamas uses to launder capital worth millions of dollars that is transferred to the West Bank and Gaza.
Former Terrorist Prisoners Run the Hamas Office in Istanbul
The military wing of Hamas maintains an office in Istanbul, Turkey, which works closely with the West Bank headquarters of Hamas located in Gaza and directing terror attacks in the West Bank. One of the operatives involved is Forsan Khalifa, responsible for the northern part of the West Bank. Khalifa liaised with the terror cell headed by terrorist Ahmed Nassar Jarrar of Jenin, who murdered Rabbi Raziel Shevach next to the community of Havat Gilad in Samaria.
Khalifa’s office works with the knowledge and authorization of the security forces in Turkey. Hamas’ liaison with the Turkish authorities is Jihad Ya’amour, a Hamas operative involved in the kidnapping of IDF soldier Nachshon Wachsman and also released under the Shalit Deal.
Another Hamas operative who was released under the Shalit Deal and works for the office in Istanbul is Salama Marei, who was involved in a shooting attack in 1993 in Barkin, in the northern part of the West Bank, during which an IDF soldier was murdered.
When contacts were made with regard to the reconciliation agreement between Israel and Turkey, Israel requested the closure of the Hamas office in Istanbul. Turkey refused, but it agreed to deport the director of the office Saleh al-Arouri. Al-Arouri left for Qatar, from where he departed for Lebanon.
Al-Arouri continues to run the office long-distance, even until today. His office is responsible, among other things, for the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli youths in Gush Etzion in July 2014, which led to Operation Protective Edge, and the operation of the terror cell that murdered Eitam and Naama Henkin in the Nablus area in October 2015.
Similarly, this office was in close contact with Maazen Pokha, also released under the Shalit Deal, who worked with the West Bank Headquarters in Gaza and directed various terror activities in the West Bank. Maazen Pokha was assassinated in mysterious circumstances at his home in Gaza in March 2017. Hamas claims he was killed by collaborators on behalf of Israel.
From the office in Turkey, Saleh al-Arouri also ran a large terror network with more than 60 operatives in the West Bank, which attempted to undermine the stability of the Palestinian Authority, in general, and the regime of Mahmoud Abbas in particular. ISA arrested members of this network and uncovered explosive materiel. The then-head of ISA, Yoram Cohen, traveled to the Muqata – Palestinian Authority headquarters in Ramallah — personally to update the PA chairman.
Mahmoud Abbas thanked Israel for its help, as well as the Palestinian security forces, who had no idea that a Hamas terror network had sprouted under their noses. They continued to arrest members of the network, who were hiding out in areas under the Palestinian Authority.
Engineer Fadi al-Batsh
Over the past two weeks, it has emerged that during the last few years, the office of the military wing of Hamas in Istanbul also handled Hamas engineer Dr. Fadi al-Batsh, who was assassinated on April 10, 2018, in Malaysia.
Al-Batsh designed drones for the military wing of Hamas, as well as methods to improve the accuracy of the movement’s rockets.
He traveled to Turkey regularly to attend scientific conferences. During his time in Istanbul, he would meet with his Hamas handlers and receive instructions.
With regard to anything connected with Hamas, there is a great similarity between Turkey and Malaysia. Both of them provide sanctuary to the organization, which they support politically and ideologically, and they turn a blind eye to its terror activities in their territories. The military wing of Hamas recruits Palestinian students attending universities in both Turkey and Malaysia.
What Does the Future Hold?
The continued activities of the Hamas office in Istanbul, which directs terror activities against Israel, are a clear breach of the understandings between Israel and Turkey, reached before the reconciliation agreement between both countries was signed. Israel recognizes the strategic importance of relations with Turkey and has not cut its ties with it, even though the activities of Hamas are authorized by President Erdogan, who considers himself to be the most important leader of the Muslim Brotherhood world organization and has taken Hamas and its leaders under his wing.
Nonetheless, the time has come for Israel to start working intensively on the diplomatic front to bring about the closure of the office of the Hamas military wing in Istanbul because it is becoming a significant factor endangering Israel’s security and is laying a terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank.
Israel must put international pressure on Turkey. Any country opening its doors to the military wing of Hamas, such as Turkey and Malaysia, should be declared a country that supports terror by the United States and Europe.
President Erdogan is very sensitive to international criticism of the activities of terror organizations in his country. The time has come for Israel to reveal the operations of the Hamas office in Istanbul to the international community and the media so that this pressure will work.